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Living Linux

Contact Managers


Loosely put, a "contact manager" is a piece of software that helps you keep track of information about people you may need to contact in the future. In the past, people often called the physical version of these things a "rolodex," which incidentally was a brand name for the Cadillac of such contact managers, the circular Rolodex file that sat atop the desk of every successful 20th century businessman. I hear that many people use devices like this even today; in this week's column, I'd like to show how it can be done on Linux systems with faster search times and much less desk space.

Keeping a free-form address list

This is the simplest way to keep names and addresses in Linux.

You can keep names and addresses in a text file as a free-form address list; to find an entry, use the search capabilities of tools like grep, text editors, and text pagers such as less.

What's nice about such lists is that you don't have to keep the same information or format for each entry -- one might contain just a name and phone number, another a complete mailing address, another a name and e-mail address. With a free-form address list, each entry contains whatever information you want in the format you want. Separate the entries with a delimiter line of your preference, like "###" on a line by itself.

For example, suppose you have such a text file, rolo, containing three entries:

John Dos Passos
1919 America Ave.
New York City


Scott F. - 602 555 1803
(don't call after 12)


T. Wolfe's new email has changed.
The new one is:

Notice that each entry contains varied information, and in no particular format. That's the benefit of a free-form list -- you don't have to type the entries in any particular order, and you're not bound by a given set of "fields"; you can even cut and paste text into it from e-mail, the Web, or other windows.

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